Suzuki DL1000 V-Stom First Ride

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2014 DL1000 V-Strom

Earlier this year, Suzuki launched their new V-Strom 1000 filling the gap that had been left when the previous model was discontinued. Although I had never ridden the old model, I have owned a Cagiva Raptor 1000 and I have tested the SV1000 which both share a similar engine so I knew that I would love the engine: a mean growl and plenty of torque!

First impressions are very important and I must say that when I originally saw the pre-launch photos of the bike last year, I was happy to see that Suzuki had done a pretty good job of styling the new V-Strom: they have taken styling cues from the old DR750 and looked at what else was available to see which way the market is heading. There was a pre-launch event a few months back and I was able to have a good look around the new bike and have a sit on it. I was impressed with a few details that Suzuki had introduced such as the adjustable screen, the 12 volt socket on the dash and, most of all, the lack of weight that it seemed to have: at 228kg (claimed) it is the lightest of the plus 1000cc adventure bikes.

Coming from the Triumph Tiger 800XC, I was surprised that I could get both feet flat on the floor. You feel that you are sitting in the bike, rather than on it and, having the weight low down, there is no problem with paddling the bike around when reversing out of a parking space. The ‘bars feel a bit narrow by comparison to the Triumph but the front end feels much lighter so there isn’t the need for the extra leverage. The dash felt a bit confusing as there was, for me, too much information on display to take in at a glance: this is something that an owner would get used to once they had worked out where the relevant information was located. One thing that irritated me was that the fuel low icon kept flashing throughout the whole test ride: I would prefer an amber light to appear on the clocks as it would be more obvious and less distracting every time I look down to check my speed.

V-Strom Dash

I have a route that I usually take when I am test riding bikes which covers around 40 miles of urban and country roads and finish off with a blast down either the A12 or A14 just outside of Ipswich: this gives me around an hour of riding and covers most scenarios that you could encounter other than long distance touring.

As we pulled out from the motorcycle shop, the familiar V-twin torque and grumble made me smile: there’s something about the V configuration that other bikes don’t seem to have. Throttle action is light and the bike accelerates crisply and with a nice surge that brings a grin to your face. Riding through the to town is a pleasure with a nice, light hydraulic clutch taking the strain off the left hand. Gear changes were quite clunky, however, leaving the bike in second or third gear while trundling through the urban sprawl makes city riding a breeze. The low centre of gravity and the previously mentioned lack of weight and low seat mean that there is never any fear of being overwhelmed by the Strom.

With the town behind us, I was able to open the throttle and let the V-Strom sing. Again, the light throttle and light weight made this bike so easy to ride through the twisty roads of Suffolk, just leave the gearbox in third and the rest seems to be telepathy as you point and squirt from one bend to the next whilst riding on the crest of the torque curve. There was quite a bit of slow moving traffic on this balmy spring day so progress wasn’t as easy as I would have liked, however, all you need is a short stretch of clear road to make that overtaking manoeuver and the bike will fly once more. At one point, I came up behind a police car which made for a frustrating 10 minutes as I didn’t want to give the driver any excuse to pull me over!

Back on a clear road, I was able to make some progress through some lovely twisty roads, which showed the Strom’s abilities off at their best. The acceleration and stability of the bike were quite amazing as you just set the lean angle and power through the curves with wild abandon. The OE tyres that come with the bike are Bridgestone Battlewing dual sports that are the same as what was originally on my Tiger. I was never 100% confident with them on the 800 but on the Strom, they seem to work better: maybe this is down to the different sized front tyres or the fact that the weight is carried differently.

During my ride, I had the traction control set to its most intrusive setting just to see if I could provoke it into action. As it turned out neither the TC or the ABS came into use… or, if they did, I never noticed them!

There were a couple of gripes that I had with the bike but unfortunately only one of which could be quickly and cheaply adjusted: as I mentioned, the bars are quite narrow and this could have affected how the grips felt but, for me, the grips seemed to also be narrow and left me resting my palms on their outer edge. By the end of the ride, my hands were quite sore. If this were my bike, I would look at changing the bars and maybe the grips so that I would feel more comfortable on longer journeys.

Another irritation was that my knees touched the tank right at the bottom as it joins the side panel creating another pressure point causing fatigue. Fitting the taller seat option may alleviate this but I’m not sure. I would have to try both seats to compare the difference.

Finally, at speed I was experiencing quite a lot of turbulence around my helmet, which was cause by the screen. I was able to adjust the screen on the fly (which is one of the good features that Suzuki has included) but no matter what position the screen was in, the buzz was still there.

As we were two-up during this test ride, I am happy to say that I can also give a pillion’s view of the DL1000 that Alison gave to me once we returned to Orwell Motorcycles. Her initial impressions were very positive, especially with the comfort of the rear seat: her only comparison is the Tiger but she was very positive saying that it was larger and more comfortable than the XC’s pad. The same cannot be said for the grab rails, which are similar to the Tiger; her impression was that they were not big enough and positioned too close to the seat to be able to grip them firmly. At speeds below 50mph, she said that the V-Strom was pleasurable and comfortable, however, once over that speed, the vibrations from the V-twin and the turbulence from the screen made the experience an uncomfortable one. She said that any journey more than an hour would be beyond her levels of tolerance.

Even though we were out on the bike for an hour and covered around 40 miles, I would have liked to take the DL1000 V-Strom out for a weekend blast up to the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District to get a better impression of how the bike would perform its intended role. Although the Strom is dressed in dual sport clothing, it is really, in all intents and purposes, a touring bike with a bit of stature that has followed the current trend of adventure styling. Having a 19-inch front wheel does give a nod towards a bit of light trail riding, however, I would prefer to see the bike with wire wheels: maybe an adventure version will be on the cards for next year!

Overall, I feel that Suzuki have created a really nice bike with some good features; it is certainly, in my opinion, the best looking Japanese bike in this sector with Yamaha’s XT660 Z Ténéré coming in a very close second. The ride is impeccable with the standard settings for me with Alison as a pillion with most road imperfections being smoothed out, leaving you to just enjoy the ride. The brakes are strong and progressive with plenty of feel at the lever letting the rider know what is happening and, although I have never activated the ABS on any bike, I’m sure that it would be a welcome safety net especially on wet roads.

The question is would I buy one? Well, the current answer is no; this is mainly due to the price being set at a smidge under £10,000. Capacity-wise, the DL1000 is right in the middle of the mid-weight 800s and the heavyweight 1200s and it seems as though Suzuki think that the price should be in the middle too. The problem that I have is that the new Strom offers me nothing more than my current Tiger 800XC does, in fact, you could go as far as saying that the DL650 V-Strom offers exactly the same as its big brother for a lot less money: what you save by buying the Wee, you could spend on a long-distance trip around Europe and still have change. If Suzuki had given the DL1000 an £8,500 price point, I think they would have hit the mark and they would be flying out of dealers’ doors. They’ll probably still sell well due to the popularity of the previous model and the current trend in this style of bikes. I am pleased to stay with my Triumph but I was glad for the experience of riding the new Strom.

 

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Airoh S4

Airoh S4

I needed a helmet for trail riding as a full-faced lid can be a little claustrophobic when out on the green lanes. The Airoh S4 is a reasonable priced, lightweight thermoplastic helmet with a peak and is in the adventure style with a removable visor.

As this was my first off-road styled helmet, I was quite surprised at how much more noise managed to get through. This is down to the larger chin bar area which gives a larger opening. On my first ride wearing the S4, I felt that cars were about to hit me from behind, such was the amplified sound. Once you get used to this, you can actually start to feel how the helmet fits and works.

Sizing is pretty standard: I bought a medium which seemed to be a similar size to a medium from Arai and Shoei. The lining, including cheek pads, is all removable for ease of cleaning, however, I’m not sure if they have the facility to replace the padding with alternate sizes like some of the top manufacturers do. Comfort was pretty good with the S4 feeling quite secure except for when I first looked over my shoulder and the wind caught the peak: I wasn’t ready for that!

I bought the matt black Airoh which, in hind sight, was probably the wrong choice as matt paint jobs are not the easiest to clean: something I came to realise as you can get quite dirty when out on the trails! The white mesh on the inside managed to attract so much dust that I had to clean the inside as often as the shell.

Wash Me!

 

Ventilation is pretty good although some of the covers and fittings do seem to be pretty delicate. The visor always remained clear due to the amount of air flow but it can get a bit chilly in there as the night draws in. I ordered the dark tinted visor from a 3rd party supplier but it took so long to arrive that I never manage to fit it before I sold the helmet.

I would class the Airoh S4 as a good entry-level dual sport helmet with a relatively good standard of finish let down slightly by cheap fixings. Ultimately, you get what you pay for. I would only use this helmet for trail riding and short runs into town or work: for longer journeys, I would prefer something that felt a bit more substantial and that is the reason why I kept a full-faced helmet during my ownership.

Arai Chaser Legend – Phil Read Replica

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Arai Chaser Legend

1985 was the year that I first heard of Arai helmets: I had been riding for a year or so, wearing a cheap £20 polycarbonate Nolan N24 whilst zinging around on my knackered old RD50M when my sister’s boyfriend turned up wearing an Arai Supervent Freddie Spencer Replica. Fast Freddie was on his way to winning both the 250 and 500 Championships and he was my idol. To see the replica helmet in the flesh was, to 17 year old me, just as good as seeing man in person. I wanted that helmet but it was way out of my price range.

Roll forward 25 years (gulp!) to 2010 and I am purchasing an Arai Chaser Legend with the sublime Phil Read graphics. I had been looking to buy this helmet for a while as I think the black and white design makes it one of the most classy looking full-face helmets on the market. I was always told that you either had an Arai or a Shoei head and since I had previously owned four Shoeis, I was a little cautious so I kept returning to the shop to try the lid on.

Straight away the helmet felt comfortable: yes, it was different from a Shoei but just as comfortable if a little noisier. The shell was light and the internal padding cosseted my bonce giving me the reassurance that I had made the correct choice. On the first ride, however, I didn’t realise that I needed to slide the little clip on the visor in order to lock it in position; this resulted in the visor unexpectedly flipping up as soon as I looked over my shoulder! My previous Shoei helmets had a ratchet visor system giving you the option of several openings and a secure closing of the shield. Once I found out that the Chaser’s visor needed locking, it became second nature. The catch is held on by a little screw which came loose after a while so I had to replace the catch and screw in order to keep the visor down.

Visor changing was also a different experience: Shoei employs a couple of levers that pull down a catch at each hinge so that the visor pops straight off. With the Arai, you need to open the visor fully, then two levers appear from inside the hinge covers: when you pull these, the visor can be removed but is makes a terrible noise which made me think that I was breaking some plastic components within the mechanism. Refitting is rather awkward, as you have to slide the visor in between the hinge covers and push really hard until it clicks into place. All of this was rather worrying when you’ve just shelled out around £300 for the lid! Once you get used to this system, it becomes easier, however, I did manage to break both hinge mechanisms on two separate occasions, showing just how delicate the set-up can be.

One of my biggest issues with the Arai Chaser was the fact that the lining in the chin guard was so prone to falling apart. Like most people, I carry my helmet by the chin guard: I had done this for 6 years with my previous Shoei XR1000 with no problems at all. I took the helmet in to my local dealer (not the shop that sold me the lid) and they sent it off to Arai to have the padding repaired. When it came back, I was told that I was carrying the helmet incorrectly and this is what caused the damage: I mentioned that this is how I had always carried helmets and this was the first to suffer from this fault. A year later and I had to return the helmet for a second time to have the same repair.

Ventilation is very good on the Chaser with a chin vent, two more in the visor and a fourth on the top all of which can be opened when required. Exhausts are located to the rear of the shell and at the nape of the neck. The vents are so good that my head was sometimes too cold; such is the perfectly designed route that the air takes through the shell. The vent in the chin guard became loose after some use but was also repaired on the second return to the factory.

As with most top-line helmets, the Chaser has a fully removable lining allowing for easy maintenance and, if you should need them, replaceable components to ensure a comfortable fit throughout the lid’s lifetime.

These days, the Arai Chaser is a mid-priced helmet from one of the most respected manufacturers. Unfortunately, my experience was one of frustration. Although the helmet was always comfortable and Arai did repair the chin guard lining twice, I felt that, compared to the Shoei helmets that I had previously owned, the Arai was just too delicate for everyday use – or maybe I’m just too ham-fisted! Luckily, my nearest Arai supplier was only a mile from where I lived, so getting the helmet repaired wasn’t too much of a hassle, just an inconvenience. When I’m spending several hundred of my hard earned pounds, I expect the product to work at all times without having to be handled with kid gloves.

Shoei Hornet DS

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Shoei Hornet DS

Keeping your noggin safe is probably one of the most important things to consider when travelling on a motorcycle.

About a year ago, I bought myself the Shoei Hornet DS helmet in white. I have previously owned 5 Shoei helmets, so I knew that I would be getting a quality lid, although having a dual sport helmet is fairly new to me. Everything about the Hornet DS feels like quality from the removable linings to the quality of the painted shell, the DS gives the owner everything that he wants from a premium helmet designer.

The visor integrates the wonderful Pinlock system ensuring that you have a clear view in most circumstances. The visor itself is a bit more of a job to remove and replace than most of my previous Shoei helmets but this is down to the fact that the peak is also secured by the hinge mechanism retaining bolt. Due to this, Shoei do not offer anything more than the clear visor or a light tint alternative. Those who like to ride with a dark tinted visor in the summer months may be disappointed but the peak does offer quite a bit of shielding for the eyes.

Ventilation is catered for with a chin vent along with two additional vents above the visor and a fourth within the peak. All vents as well as the two rear exhausts can be set open or closed depending on your preference. In June 2013, I was riding in northern Spain where the temperature was in the 30s all of the time; I rode with all vents open and was rewarded by a cooling flow over my head that enabled me to concentrate on riding the bike instead of worrying about overheating.

The lining and padding is extremely comfortable, just like all of my previous Shoei helmets. As it is all removable, it is easy to keep clean and Shoei do sell pads in differing sizes so that you can get the most comfortable fit.

As with the majority of helmets, the strap is secured with D loops which ensure that it remains comfortable and secure at all times.

All in all, I have found this helmet to be very comfortable if a little noisier than pure road biased helmets. The fit and finish is perfect and everything is easily removed for cleaning. Cleaning can be a bit more involved compared to a road biased helmet due to the peak: I tend to remove everything from the shell so that I can get into every nook and cranny because, being white, it can get very dirty very quickly!

Triumph Tiger 800 First Ride

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The following is a review of the Triumph Tiger 800 that I wrote back in December 2010. This appeared on several forums and was also published in Motorcycle News.

Tiger800

Besides Triumph employees and journalists, I think that I have the privilege of being the first member of public in Suffolk to ride the new Triumph Tiger 800 this morning.  A few weeks ago, I test rode the BMW F800 GS because I knew that I would be riding the Tiger and I wanted to have a direct comparison between the two bikes.

With a full tank of petrol and only 30 miles on the clock, rode out of Lings Triumph at about 11:30am.  As the roads were very greasy on this mid-December morning and because the bike was still being run-in, I took it easy for the first few miles down Foxhall Road to the A12 and then on to the A14.  Riding on the dual carriageway at 70 mph (5,000 rpm in 6th gear) was very comfortable with the screen offering plenty of protection without too much wind noise – I think I would be happy doing this all day as the seating position is very comfortable and the bars are perfectly positioned for this kind of riding.

I peeled off the A14 down into Ipswich so that I could pop in to see some friends and get their reactions to the bike.  The general consensus was positive with many questions about how it was to ride and what the engine was like.  A couple of GS 1200 riders were very interested in the bike looking over every aspect and comparing it with their bikes.  Even they were very impressed!

Back on the road, I headed out to Hadleigh to ride a route that I have taken many bikes down as it covers all tyres of road from fast A roads to tight and twisty Bs and finishes off with a few miles of dual carriageway.  There are a couple of points that are immediately better on the Tiger than the F800 GS: the first is the engine which, even though I had to keep it below 5,000 rpm, has a lot more acceleration and it feels so much more lively than the twin BMW.  On the BMW, I had to drop it down a couple of cogs when overtaking whereas the Triumph is happy to give you that bit extra as and when you need it.  Riding around the twisty B roads in 3rd or 4th gear is a breeze, just rolling on and off the throttle from one corner to the next with plenty of torque just as and when you need it.  This kind of riding highlighted the second positive point that the Tiger has over the BMW and that is the perfect suspension set-up.  When I rode the BMW, there was a noticeable pitching fore and aft as you opened up the throttle or applied the brakes – it was not an uncomfortable or annoying trait, just something that I noticed.  The Tiger rides much more like a road bike – admittedly, I was riding the Tiger with the 19 inch front wheel and the lower seat height, but I’m sure that the XC variant will ride just as tightly when I try that in a couple of week’s time.

As I mentioned before, because the bike is being run-in and because the road was greasy and, in places, dirt strewn from tractors exiting fields, I was taking it easy on this test ride which gave me time to take-in and appreciate the bike more.  As you would expect, the riding position offers a great view of the road ahead with enough height to be able to be over most cars.  The mirrors are excellent, some of the best that I have used on a bike, giving an uncluttered and very clear view of what is behind.  The switchgear is standard Triumph and very easy to get on with – some may say that it is getting a bit old-fashioned but everything is where you would expect it to be and works just as it should.

The instrument console is a great improvement over the already good Triumph dashboard.  The rev counter on the right is a standard analogue clock with a digital display on the left showing speed, milage, gear position, a fuel gauge and a clock.  I didn’t play around with the instruments as I was having enough fun on the bike without needing to change any of the information.

The tyres fitted to the demonstrator were Pirelli Scorpion MTs which, in my opinion, worked very well on the bike.  Due to the road conditions, I was unable to push them very hard, but I did have confidence in their ability.  There was just one moment in a 50 mph left-hander where I felt the rear slide a little but nothing that would scare me and I it gave me plenty of warning – I doubt that any other tyre would have behaved any differently in the same circumstances.

The Tiger that I rode was completely standard without any of the extras like ABS or heated grips, both of which were on the BMW that I tested.  To be honest, didn’t miss them as I have never had these on a bike that I have owned before.  The heated grips on the BMW were nice as I was wearing summer gloves on a cold day, on the Triumph however, I was wearing winter gloves and my hands were fine.  If the ABS did anything on the BMW, then I didn’t notice it and I never needed it on the Tiger.  I’m sure that it would be nice having ABS there as a safety net, but it is not something that feel would be essential, especially after riding the Triumph without it.

As a comparison test, I would choose the Triumph over the BMW.  I was considering the BMW a few months ago until I heard that there was a mid-sized Tiger on its way.  I’m glad that I held off until I had ridden both of the bikes.  The new Triumph Tiger 800 is the bike that I have been wanting for a long time: it is practical and comfortable giving me the ability to tour, commute and have a bit of fun as and when the mood takes me.  It is, I feel, the only bike that I will need in the future.